Boundary decision

Ministers were yesterday urged to act quickly on a controversial overhaul of councils in Norfolk and Suffolk after a legal victory appeared to get the process back on track.

Ministers were yesterday urged to act quickly on a controversial overhaul of councils in Norfolk and Suffolk after a legal victory appeared to get the process back on track.

Moves to create new 'unitary' councils in the two counties became bogged down in the courts after three councils in Suffolk argued that the Boundary Committee had failed to look at all options on the table when it formulated its proposals.

But a Court of Appeal ruling yesterday said that the process was lawful and consistent with the guidance given by ministers.

In Norfolk the committee is looking at two draft proposals to overhaul the current system of county and district councils - one for a single Norfolk super council, and a second “doughnut” option of two councils, one covering greater Norwich including parts of Broadland and South Norfolk, and a second “rural” Norfolk authority.

Similar options are on the cards in Suffolk - with a two council option based on Ipswich and the Haven gateway.

Norwich City Council, which is backing the doughnut bid, urged local government secretary John Denham to speed up the conclusions of the Boundary Committee.

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Council leader Steve Morphew, said: “This is about as dismissive as judgments can be and confirms this case was brought to disrupt the process and not for any valid reason,” he said. “We have won the arguments that a unitary Norwich can deliver better, cheaper, more efficient and more joined-up services. That will improve people's quality of life and help create jobs and homes to secure the prosperity of the city.

“With these sorts of opportunities available, especially during a recession, it is nothing short of criminal to delay letting us get on with it.”

But Norfolk County Council leader Daniel Cox said it was business as usual for the authority and doubted whether there was any time to get the legislation through before a general election.

“This is interesting for local government review anoraks, but in my view academic, as time is now running out fast,” Mr Cox said. “Norfolk councils are facing funding challenges of an unprecedented nature. The answers lie in looking at new ways of working, greater sharing between public services and making taxpayers money work much harder in future. We do not need any more diversions”.

A Boundary Committee spokesman said the committee was pleased with the ruling, but it leaves the three Suffolk councils - Forest Heath, St Edmundsbury, and Suffolk Coastal with a huge legal bill, and they now plan to appeal directly to Mr Denham to make the case for their preferred option of three unitaries for Suffolk - East, West, and Ipswich.

South Norfolk council leader John Fuller said he was disappointed with the ruling.

“We have always said this reorganisation is bad for democracy, the local economy, council taxpayers, local services and our communities,” he said.

A communities and local government spokesman said the litigation had been a distraction and Mr Denham recognised the need to end the uncertainty and move forward and he would be considering the judgment as a “matter or urgency”.

“It is now important that this whole process is brought to a conclusion as quickly as possible, and the Secretary of State will do all he can to achieve this,” she said.

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